Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's Wrong With Wave?

Wave fail.

When Google Wave first came out there was a ton of excitement surrounding it. I was never fully persuaded by the hour-long introduction video, but I was still an early adopter (in the limited pre-beta beta release, or whatever Google called it) and a relatively enthusiastic user. I've tried playing Sudoku on Wave. I've tried having various group meetings on Wave. Some of these experiences were moderately successful, some of them led to failed projects (goodbye ISC 2010), and ultimately Wave seems to have failed to catch on.

Now, granted, it's still in a beta version, but I don't want to dwell on Wave's prospects. I'm simply surprised that its talented development team (former members of the Google Maps team) were responsible for its confused interface design, identity issues (the hour-long intro should have been a tip-off), and (improving, but still bad) performance and reliability.

I'm not sure what lessons to draw from the struggle of the Wave team. That even the best developers in the world still fail sometimes? That earlier validation of designs is necessary? That addressing problems in existing solutions is a disastrous method for innovation if you don't consider the new problems you're introducing? I could probably go on for a while but the thing is, as easy as it is to identify problems with hindsight, I don't know (and can't know) if I would have caught these things had I actually been involved in the design of Wave.

Companies are often happy to boast about their successful design strategies and crazy new innovation paradigms, but there is an obvious selection bias at play in the reporting of these strategies. Who's going to give a TED talk on "Industry-Standard-Centric Design"? Or "Useless But Totally Cool Sounding Paradigms"? Actually, that second one might be a real TED talk, but generally speaking, despite a trizillion books about it, there are not many trustworthy resources about software project management.

EDIT: This just in, other people are writing about interestingly related material! Specifically, lessons learned from failed software products.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

GUID Socks: Closer to Reality

Waaaaaaay back in the day, I wrote about creating pairs socks tagged with globally unique identifiers (GUIDS) that would allow you to match up pairs of socks for neat, orderly folding. I remember being pretty enamored by the idea the time and started working on some spiffy second-generation designs where the GUID was translated into visually distinct patterns. I even had the beginnings of a promotional website made, to sell the world on the wonders of cryptographically secure socks.

Alas, that idea has yet to fully come to fruition, but as I was deleting some spam comments from older entries of this blog, I stumbled on this gem of a comment from someone going by the moniker 'Jon':

Hi, I got the very same idea and decided to google it and ended up here.

The question here is how to automatically feed the sock machine with new data for every pair. I need to check with a manufacturer if its possible. :)

Sometimes, the internet is pretty awesome.

Recruitment Meeting

This picture is in no way related to the content of this blog post.

UW iGEM had its recruitment meeting today. It was fun times! But I really need work on my presenting abilities; I find I'm really hit-and-miss in my ability to actually convey information while speaking to groups of people. This doesn't come as a surprise, I was always consistantly bad at "verbal communication" as the elementary school report cards would call it, at least by the crazy perfectionist standards of my youth. Nonetheless, I like to avoid being "that guy that gave that talk that nobody understood" whenever possible.

I find it interesting that the fields I'm working in now, both at iGEM and in co-op terms tend to be the interdiscplinary/academic/cutting-edge-no-one-really-knows-what's-going-on fields that are prone to having miserably unintelligible talks. I've sat through a lot of these talks now and they're fairly painful, so painful at times that it's tempting to simply say that the presenter stood no chance and that the topic was simply too complicated to communicate in the available time. Of course, then I go off and watch some TED talks and realize that you can describe pretty much anything worth describing in twenty minutes if you're just that good.

Postscript: I was just about to post this and was looking through what tags to apply, when I realized I have an existing "Painfully Bad Poetry" tag. We were discussing painfully bad iGEM poetry for some reason or other at today's meeting and, well, I have the tag, so...

iGEM (a haiku)
the title counts as a line
oh shoot, out of room

Okay, this next one's the real haiku, not that that previous one wasn't (also, non-iGEM people, iGEM is pronounced "I gem", which is ironic given its silly capitalization which I've probably ranted about before).

lots of little cells
and biology stuff, woot
will sell soul for sleep

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Change is Painful

(click for larger image)

As you may have noticed (or heard me complain about on Twitter), Google recently added a sidebar to the left of their search results. Now, I know some other search engines (named Bing) already have such a sidebar and, in fact, it's not a look that I have any innate hatred for. I generally appreciate designers' attempts to improve software interface, even in such controversial cases as the Microsoft Ribbon or one of the many Facebook Updates.

But I draw the line here.

Google has always had a good interface. A little textbox, search button, and a list of results. It was genius! Even one of those drinking bird toys could probably figure out how to use it. The new sidebar doesn't actually take away any functionality, but at the same time it doesn't do a whole lot. We're helpfully informed that we're searching through "everything" and have the option of narrowing that down to videos, or clicking the little expandy arrow thing to see a big ol' list of things including "updates" and "shopping" to search through. There's also another little expandy arrow thing below that allows you to see options like "wonder wheel", "social", pick a time period to search through, or display fewer or more 'shopping' results.

All well and good, but there already was a toolbar at the top of the page that allowed you to refine your search and the advanced search box provided access to the other fancy Google options. I can see why Google might have wanted to expose more people to the more advanced search options, but well... years of using Google have trained me to look at the spot right where the sidebar is for my most relevant search results and now I am left staring at a cheery 'Everything!' notice instead of useful information. My eyeballs do not want to be retrained, Google. If they did, I would have switched over to Bing when it came out.

It's a bit disturbing, really, how much this slight change frustrates me (to the "I have a headache from looking at this page" degree). It emphasizes how much time I've really spent on Google and how easy it is for little icons, properly placed, to completely distract me from the information I actually need. Some would say this is a wake up call. I think I'll just hang on to the old version of the site, while it's still around.